Patrick Michaels

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Michaels in 2016
It's gettin' hot in here
Global warming
Feverish dreams
Hot-headed goons
He has published little if anything of distinction in the professional literature, being noted rather for his shrill op-ed pieces and indiscriminate denunciations of virtually every finding of mainstream climate science.[1]
—John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, on Patrick Michaels

Patrick Michaels (1950–2022) was a former state climatologist at the University of Virginia[2][3] and a "Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies" at the Cato Institute. Michaels used to be the token global warming denier among real climatologists, though he seems to have been replaced by Richard Lindzen in more recent years due to some of his notorious cases of screw-ups and outright fraud, such that he has lost any semblance of plausible deniability at this point.

Heat sinks and flunking math[edit]

Michaels was a big proponent of the repeatedly debunked denialist talking point about "urban heat sinks." The "urban heat sinks" or "urban heat islands" hypothesis claims that warming is an artifact of weather stations placed too close to cities, which radiate excess heat and cause the stations to pick up misleadingly high temperatures. (Anthony Watts is famous for making similar claims and utterly failing to prove it.) In 2004, he published a paper with economist Ross McKitrick (previously known for his cherry-picking in an earlier paper with Steve McIntyre) that found a correlation between warming and GDP levels. Michaels trumpeted this as proof of the urban heat sink hypothesis, saying the paper had gone through "four years of one of the most rigorous peer reviews ever."[4]

The paper was published in the journal Climate Research, which subsequently ran another paper showing that their models didn't reproduce the independent data.[5] The reason for this goof? The input for latitude measurements in the program Michaels was using expected input in radians instead of degrees![6]

The urban heat island effect also fails to explain a number of other things, including the fact that rural weather stations show the same warming trend as urban ones,[7] tropospheric warming,[8] and ocean warming.[9]

Climate Research had already been at the center of a controversy in 2003 after the Soon & Baliunas paper was published, which put the review process of the journal into question. Apparently, the review process got even worse as Michaels' terrifically flawed work was published. Michaels and Climate Research were mentioned in the Climategate e-mails, which were subsequently quote mined by deniers to find "evidence" that climatologists were "redefining the peer-reviewed literature." One e-mail from Tom Wigley is a common quote mine used to imply that the scientists were attempting to get Michaels' doctorate revoked (emphasis added to distinguish quote mine):

You may be interesting[sic] in this snippet of information about Pat Michaels. Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels, PhD needs re-assessing?

Michaels' PhD was, I believe, supervised by Reid Bryson. It dealt with statistical (regression-based) modeling of crop-climate relationships. In his thesis, Michaels claims that his statistical model showed that weather/climate variations could explain 95% of the inter-annual variability in crop yields. Had this been correct, it would have been a remarkable results.[sic] Certainly, it was at odds with all previous studies of crop-climate relationships, which generally showed that weather/climate could only explain about 50% of inter-annual yield variability.

How did result come about? The answer is simple. In Michaels' regressions he included a trend term. This was at the time a common way to account for the effects of changing technology on yield. It turns out that the trend term accounts for 90% of the variability, so that, in Michaels' regressions, weather/climate explains just 5 of the remaining 10%. In other words, Michaels' claim that weather/climate explains 95% of the variability is completely bogus.

Apparently, none of Michaels' thesis examiners noticed this. We are left with wondering whether this was deliberate misrepresentation by Michaels, or whether it was simply ignorance.[10]

If the data don't comply, you must falsify![edit]

Michaels, however, had earlier disabused those paying attention of any notion that he was merely ignorant or a humongous screw-up. In testimony before Congress in 1998, he presented a graph from a 1988 paper by NASA's James Hansen predicting future carbon dioxide levels and temperature changes. Michaels attempted to use this to show that "the models were broken," but neglected to mention that the original graph included three scenarios and that he had just erased all the lines but the least accurate one. Stand back, this is science!

Michaels' graph rose from the dead in 2006 after Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth was released. Soon after, Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed in the New York Times noting that Michaels had just erased the lines and called it "fraud, pure and simple," which caused a bout of denier drama.[11] Willis Eschenbach of McIntyre's Climate Audit blog tried his hand at falsifying Hansen's graph. Tim Lambert of Deltoid took Michaels and Eschenbach to task, labeling it yet another case of "Climate Fraudit." A couple of years later, McIntyre himself defended Michaels' graph and Lambert debunked it yet again.[12]

After this fiasco, Michaels claimed he had found "proof" that models were massively flawed by arguing that southern Greenland had shown very little warming… except this was actually in line with predictions, which he conveniently "forgot" to mention.[13]

Of course, none of this cost Michaels his job nor did it keep him from continuing to churn out this crap. Nor did it stopped the zombie lies about Hansen's "failed predictions" from becoming doctrine among deniers.

Admission of shilling[edit]

In an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, Michaels admitted to being bankrolled by fossil fuel interests:

Zakaria: Let me ask you what people wonder about, advocates like you. They say —

Michaels: I’m advocating for efficiency.

Zakaria: Right. But people say that you’re advocating also for the current petroleum-based industry to stand pat, to stay as it is, and that a lot of your research is funded by these industries.

Michaels: Oh, no, no. First of all, what I’m saying is —

Zakaria: Well, is your research funded by these industries?

Michaels: Not largely. The fact of the matter is —

Zakaria: Can I ask you what percentage of your work is funded by the petroleum industry?

Michaels: I don’t know. 40 percent? I don’t know.[14]

External links[edit]